Monday, March 24, 2003


The Diet Coke Civilization, the Realities of War, and the "Right to Interfere" with Human Rights Abusers


In a 1993 interview of one of France's leading nouvelle philosophes -- Bernard Henri-Levy -- reporter Nathan Gardels commented, "The people [of Europe] lack the courage of their convictions. As Milan Kundera, among others, has observed, Europeans have become too comfortable to wage war for moral reasons."


Henri-Levy responded, "Yes, I agree. The idea of war has become inconceivable for the developed countries. War is unthinkable. Or rather, we are willing to make war on one condition: that no one of us dies. This idea is consistent with the general trend of the Diet Coke civilization: we want sugar without calories, butter without fat, birth without labor pains, dying without suffering. So why not war without dying? The suppression of negativity; light without darkness that is the strange new dream of our civilization. It is our fatal illusion."

This statement is not true of most Americans today; and, as Henri-Levy himself now agrees, the guilt over Bosnia has made it less true in Europe, as well. No one in college today remembers the Vietnam War from experience, and thus does not suffer from any "syndromes" or complexes about the use of force. Most students today were mere toddlers when Ronald Reagan sent troops into Grenada.

The American public is strong enough to do what has to be done in Iraq, including supporting the deployment of ground troops. Americans are ready to undertake significant military and humanitarian tasks. That this responsibility falls primarily upon the US is not a statement of hubris, but merely of fact, given the wealth of resources at the disposal of the US. We can hope that some Western nations will follow.

Realities of War

In a book I'm reading by John Eldredge, he reminds us of the realities
of war
: "After the Allies took the beachhead at Normandy, the war wasn't
over. In some ways, it had just begun. Stephen Ambrose has given us many
unforgettable stories of what followed that famous landing in Citizen
Soldiers
, his record of how the Allies won the war. Many
of those stories are almost parables in their meaning. Her is one that
followed on the heels of D-Day. It is June 7, 1944:


Brig. Gen. Norman "Dutch" Cota, assistant division commander of the 29th.
came on a group of infantry pinned down by some Germans in a farmhouse.
He asked the captain in command why his men were making no effort to take
the building. "Sir, the Germans are in there, shooting at us," the
captain replied. "Well, I'll tell you what, captain," said Cota,
unbuckling two grenades from his jacket. "You and your men start shooting
at them. I'll take a squad of men and you and your men watch carefully.
I'll show you how to take a house with Germans in it." Cota led his
squad around a hedge to get as close as possible to the house. Suddenly,
he gave a whoop and raced forward, the squad following, yelling like wild
men. As they tossed grenades into the windows, Cota and another man
kicked in the front door, tossed a couple grenades inside, waited for the
explosions, then dashed inside the house. The surviving Germans inside
were streaming out the back door, running for their lives. Cota returned
to the captain. "You've seen hot to take a house," said the general,
still out of breath. "Do you understand? Do you know how to do it now?"
"Yes, sir."



What can we learn from the parable. Why were those guys pinned down?
First, they seemed almost surprised they were being shot at. "They're
shooting at us, sir." Hello? That's what happens in war -- you get shot
at. Have you forgotten? We were born into a world at war. This scene
we're living in is no sitcom; it's bloody battle."

As a Dept. of Defense press conference made clear today, the purpose of war (from the military perspective) is to kill people and break things. One of the realities of war is that things can go wrong. We expect casualties, and we can expect that the enemy won't respect conventions and will do every despicable trick he can. To expect otherwise is foolish.


"Right to Interfere?"


In a 1993 interview with New Perspectives Quarterly, Samuel Huntington said that "the best way to protect human rights in the long run is to push a country toward democratization. . . . At the same time, there ought to be ways to punish [a] government by imposing some penalties for violation of human rights."

Interestingly, Bernard
Kouchner
, the French minister of humanitarian affairs under the last Socialist government, argues that the West should be more aggressive in the conflict of civilizations, taking upon itself the "right to interfere" to prevent the violation of human rights. He argues, for example, that if a woman in the Sudan asks for protection against a clitorectomy, the West should come to her aid.

Huntington agrees "where there are sustained, gross violations of human rights. . . . The U.N. sanctioned such intervention to help the Kurds and in Somalia. But, for now, there is no general support for such a 'right to interfere.' But there is another type of intervention that I believe may be more acceptable, and with which I agree: the right of the global democratic community to prevent the reversion of what has become a democratic country to authoritarianism. It is a kind of 'democratic Brezhnev doctrine.'"

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